Quality Children's Entertainment Family Movie Reviews

Archive for April, 2020

Entertainment Super Star Tom Kalinske, former CEO of Sega US and Leapfrog Talks with KIDS FIRST!

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

Recently KIDS FIRST! reporter Rohan F. had the opportunity to visit with Thomas “Tom” Kalinske, an American businessman, best known as having worked for Mattel 1972-87, reviving the Barbie & Hot Wheels Brands, launching Masters of the Universe, then being promoted to CEO of Mattel from 1985 to 1987. Next he was CEO of Matchbox, and then recruited to become president and CEO of Sega of America, Inc. from 1990 to 1996. Next up – CEO and COB of Leapfrog 1997-2006.

Tom’s aggressive marketing decisions during his time at Sega, such as price drops, anti-Nintendo attack ads, and the famous “Sega Scream” TV campaign, are often cited as key elements in the success of the Genesis video game console. He is currently the Executive Chairman of Global Education Learning, a company dedicated to children’s education in China.

For his work at Mattel, Universal Matchbox, Sega, and Leapfrog,  Kalinske was a 1997 inductee into the Toy Industry Hall of Fame. He has received the NYC Boy Scout’s Good Scout Award, the Starlight Foundation Man of Year Award, the University of Wisconsin Business Partners “Distinguished Fellow” Award, and the Video Software Dealers Man of Year Award.

Learn what Tom’s experience means to you and why he is a perfect role model for kids worldwide.

Interview by Rohan F., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic

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The Half Of It * Beautiful Story About Love, Friendship And Longing

Thursday, April 30th, 2020

When smart but cash-strapped teen Ellie Chu agrees to write a love letter for a jock, she doesn’t expect to become his friend – or fall for his crush. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Zoe C. comments, “The Half of It is certainly a beautiful story about love, friendship and longing. It is a very relatable story about the process of discovering love and what comes with it. The acting is splendid and writer/director Alice Wu is very assertive in both capacities.”  Ruby A. adds, “The Half Of It is a film that virtually anyone can enjoy. It’s hilarious, unique, and has many intersecting relationships that keep you guessing what will happen in the future. The small-town setting helps the story feel more relatable. The personalities of the characters blend well and the progression of the plot makes sense.” Calista B. Wraps it up with, “The Half of It is interesting, however I feel like it could have been much better. I like it, yet I think there is a lot of missed potential.” See their full reviews below.

The Half of It
By Zoe C., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

The Half of It is certainly a beautiful story about love, friendship and longing. It is a very relatable story about the process of discovering love and what comes with it. The acting is splendid and writer/director Alice Wu is very assertive in both capacities.

The story follows Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), a shy and introverted, straight “A” student, in her senior year, helping a friend, Paul, to capture the attention of the girl of his dreams, Aster. Initially, Ellie writes just one letter, but the story evolves into an exchange of text messages before their first date. During the journey, the characters discover the truth of the stress and challenges of courtship.

The film starts with a beautiful, artsy animation and excellent voice over work, guiding us into the mysteries of love at a very young age. The Half of It is a very well narrated story, keeping you intrigued, making you wanting to know more about the characters and how they will end up. The editing and music are very interconnected and they work in perfect harmony, turning into amazing storytelling.

I enjoyed the acting and the honesty of Leah Lewis’ portrayal of a very timid, but determined girl. I love Paul naiveté and his struggle to communicate and show his emotions and how his innocence contrasts with Ellie’s intelligence. Despite their differences they become friends, which is one of my favorite aspects of the film. I also love Collin Chou who plays Ellie’s dad. He barely speaks English but he’s really funny. He portrays a very loving and kind man and wants what’s best for his daughter. Ellie’s Dad loves classic films and, throughout the movie, there are several references to art in different disciplines like painting and poetry. This makes the film feel very grounded. “The Best Part,” as Ellie’s Dad refers when interrupted when watching his cinema classics, is when Ellie and Aster are in a secret lake and just talking. The scene itself is beautiful and the acting feels so natural. I love how this scene is shot and found it really relaxing.

The Half of It is not the typical high school movie, because in almost every high school movie there is a popular girl, a shy nerdy girl with lots of clichés and no substance. But in this movie the characters are real, current and deep.

The message of this film is “be the best version of you.” Ellie used to be an artist and one of the things she learns is that “you can have a good painting, but to make it a great one you need to make a bold stroke.” I think what she means by “bold stroke” is the best version that you can possibly be of yourself. Also we hear that “love is the journey we pursue with determination.”

This film is wonderful! I could watch it a million times and still be entertained. I give The Half of It 5outof 5 stars and recommended it for ages 12 to 18. The Half of It opens on Netflix May 1, 2020.

The Half Of It
By Ruby A., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 12

The Half Of It is a film that virtually anyone can enjoy. It’s hilarious, unique, and has many intersecting relationships that keep you guessing what will happen in the future. The small-town setting helps the story feel more relatable. The personalities of the characters blend well and the progression of the plot makes sense.

Netflix’s The Half Of It takes place in a small town by the name of Squahamish, following a girl named Ellie Chu. Ellie is in high school and has a way with words. Although she is talented, she is made fun of frequently. One day, Ellie is riding her bike and her classmate, Paul Munsky, asks her to write his crush, Aster, a love letter. Ellie is skeptical and annoyed, but she agrees to help him out. Little does she know that she will become his friend and fall for his crush at the same time.

Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis), Paul Munsky (Daniel Diemer) and Aster Flores (Alexxis Lemire) make a great cast of main characters. Paul and Ellie (despite their differences) make a great team when trying to impress Aster. I love so many parts of this movie, however I have to choose a favorite! The acting really is something else. The cast is really amazing and, when you watch it, you feel an emotional connection to them. There is one specific person from the cast who does an exceptional job – Leah Lewis. She embodies the role of a reserved and skeptical-of-everything teenager very well.

The lesson from this film is that acting like your true self is for more valuable than the person you may want others to perceive you as. This way, others can love you for just being you. The movie is most definitely successful in portraying this. It is a very positive and uplifting message. This movie promotes the positive social behaviors of friendship and helping other people. However, there is quite a bit of bullying towards the main protagonist, Ellie, that occurs. There is a slight bit of swearing, but nothing too severe, and some alcohol use is shown.      

I give The Half Of It 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 12 to 18, plus adults. You can find The Half Of It on Netflix May 1, 2020.                                                      

The Half of It
By Calista B., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 16

The Half of It is interesting, however I feel like it could have been much better. I like it, yet I think there is a lot of missed potential.

The movie follows Ellie Chu (Leah Lewis) who makes money by charging other students for essay help. One day, a jock named Paul (Daniel Diemer) asks her for help writing a love letter to his crush Aster (Alexxis Lemire). However, as Ellie continues to help Paul win her over, she ends up also falling for Aster.

A big aspect of this film is the LGBT twist. As someone who cares a lot about representation, this intrigued me. However, I have mixed feelings about the way this movie goes about its representation. I can’t elaborate much as that would lead to spoilers, but let’s just say the actual LGBT romance is a little lackluster and mostly overshadowed by the straight romance. This isn’t really an issue for most of the film, however this heavily affected my opinion on the ending. I usually try not to compare pieces of media, however I want to compare this film to Love, Simon. An issue I’ve noticed when it comes to LGBT representation is the prevalence of tragedies and dramatic stories. Either that, or stories where the LGBT character doesn’t have a happy ending. This is why Love, Simon was such a hit with the LGBT audience, because it is a wholesome, romantic comedy that embraces its gay representation. And considering The Half of It is also pushing the gay aspect in marketing, it could have been a lot better. The Half of It is far from the worst when it comes to unsatisfying representation, but it definitely has room for improvement.

However, the representation is not the only aspect of the film. As this is a comedy, how is the humor in this movie? Honestly, I really like a lot of the comedy in this film. I like the way Ellie and Paul play off each other and there’s many well executed visual gags and recurring bits. I also really like the friendship between Ellie and Paul. Despite the fact that they’re technically romantic rivals, you really buy their friendship as they have a great chemistry and you want them both to be happy in the end. 

I give this film 3 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 11 to 18. It comes out on May 1, 2020. Look for it.

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Webinar with Cynthia Hsiung, Award-Winning Writer, Director, Producer and more!

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

Gerry O. recently had the opportunity to interview Cynthia Hsiung with an audience of our KIDS FIRST! reporters who were able to ask her questions afterwards. With the new constraints of the Coronavirus, KIDS FIRST! has taken the opportunity to convert online interviews into learning experiences for our youth reporters. This is the first webinar we’ve conducted, so take a look and feel free to share with your network.

Cynthia Hsiung is an award winning Director, Writer, Producer and Development Executive who has developed and produced TV shows, documentaries, films and online content for MTV, VH1, Fox Kids Network, HBO and Warner Bros. She was part of the original programming development team that developed MTV’s The Real World and Road Rules; HBO’s Breasts, the documentary; and VH1’s channel-defining Behind the Music series. Still in her 20s, she was Carson Daly’s first MTV producer/director for his television VJ debut. Moving from New York to LA, she became the Director of Development for Spygaze Pictures developing feature film movies of the week. She was then brought on by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert to be the series Producer for the highly-rated 50 episode live-action series “Young Hercules” starring Ryan Gosling for Fox Kids Network. “Young Hercules” was nominated for two Emmy Awards and a Writers Guild award.

In 2010, Ms. Hsiung wrote, directed, and executive produced the feature film, “Shades of Love”. The modern love story was based on a true story. The film won five awards including Best Director of a Feature Film and Best Narrative Writing for Cynthia Hsiung. Ms. Hsiung has continued to write for film and television. Additionally in 2015 she worked on a music documentary series for Edward Norton regarding the affordable housing crisis.

In 2019, Ms. Hsiung returned to the Writers Room as one of the Executive Producers for a series for China’s Alibaba. The scripted one-hour dramatic series will be announced in 2020. She is also an Instructor for UCLA Extension Writers Program teaching courses in Writing and Showrunning. She is currently writing a mini-series on the 2019 Coronavirus.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
Author’s Page – Amazon
World According to G

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Finding Grace * Sweet, Tear Jerker! Trials and Tribulation of an Urban Family

Sunday, April 26th, 2020

A troubled teenage girl is forced to provide community service in a retirement home. As she develops a friendship with one of the residents and becomes closer to her father, she discovers the power of family, hope and faith. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Heather S. comments, “Have tissues on standby because this film delivers all the feels and should not be missed. It truly pulls your heartstrings with the trials and tribulations of this urban family.” Caroline S., KIDS FIRST! Adult reviewer adds, “Finding Grace is a heart-warming film that presents the need of God in our lives through common, real-life situations. This film demonstrates the best way to handle even the most difficult moments in our lives through the sometimes direct, sometimes indirect connection to God.” See their full reviews below.

Finding Grace
By Heather S., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 14

Finding Grace is a sweet, tear jerker! Have tissues on standby because this film delivers all the feels and should not be missed. It truly pulls your heartstrings with the trials and tribulations of this urban family.

This movie is about a girl named Alaska (Paris Warner), who got arrested and is sentenced for one hundred hours of community service at a nursing home. While working there, she meets an elderly lady, Ms. Julianne Foster (Kisha Sharon Oglesby) and forms an unlikely friendship. Alaska soon finds out that working at the nursing home is not as terrible as she thought it would be.

I’m so in love with this film. The acting is superb and it has a very relatable storyline. The character development of Alaska and her father Connor’s (Jasen Wade), showing how their relationship changes is outstanding. The blossoming of Alaska’s friendship with Ms. Foster is captured beautifully by director Warren Fast.

Throughout the movie, Alaska learns that life is very difficult.  However, having family and true friends by your side makes it easier. There are multiple adult topics that are addressed – underage consuming of alcohol, suicide mentions and a suicide attempt are shown.

I give this film 5 out of 5 stars and recommend it for ages 14 to 18. Finding Grace is available April 21, 2020 on digital and DVD.

Finding Grace
By Caroline S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewer

Finding Grace is a heart-warming film that presents the need of God in our lives through common, real-life situations. This film demonstrates the best way to handle even the most difficult moments in our lives through the sometimes direct, sometimes indirect connection to God. It shows that, even in the darkest moments, anyone can experience hope through God.

Finding Grace follows a struggling family facing new challenges, when they are already are dealing with so many things. It has many appealing elements including the cast, the settings and the storyline. I love the beautiful settings near the sea and I love that the cast includes elderly actors as extras, which something is not something found in films these days.

This film would appeal to the whole family or even a teenager who might be experiencing similar feelings as the protagonist. For example, the anger of not having the power to change or control of your own life, just as Alaska expresses in the film. The film flows well and, even though you are unfamiliar with the characters at first, it is easy to follow their internal conflicts as a broken family and as individuals. Things evolve and come to a happy resolution after inner changes and personal growth takes place, through a connection with God. The storyline uses real-life situations, from early youth, through mid-life, that any person might experience in their lifetime. Even though the cast is prominently Caucasian, there is good inclusion of other ethnic groups. I appreciate that the film gives a natural flow of life-like situations and presents a positive resolution.

The message of the film is how important it is to involve God in our lives as our guide and counselor. You should know that some scenes are not quite suited for young audiences, but can be well explained if the viewer is accompanied by an adult. Though it is not an explicit scene, there is one where Mrs. Foster is about to attempt suicide and gets caught by Alaska. The negative part of this scene is that there is no resolution at that moment for the suicide attempt, other than switching the dialogue over Alaska’s experience with suicide.

I recommend Finding Grace for ages 16 to 18, plus adults. I do suggest that the whole family make this part of a great family night. I give this film 4.5 out of 5 stars. Reviewed by Carolina S. and Julie S., KIDS FIRST! Adult Reviewers.

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My Spy * Wonderful Story About Friendship and Love In the Most Unusual Circumstances

Saturday, April 18th, 2020

Nine-year-old Sophie catches JJ, a hardened CIA operative, spying on her family during a routine surveillance operation. In exchange for not blowing his cover, JJ begrudgingly agrees to show the precocious girl how to become a spy. What at first seems like an easy task soon turns into a battle of wits as Sophie proves you don’t need much experience to outsmart a seasoned agent. KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Lindalee R. comments, “My Spy is so good because I love the friendship and love that develops between the characters JJ (Dave Bautista) and Sophie (Chloe Coleman)! They start off as strangers and then, throughout the movie, JJ teaches her how to be a good spy, and she teaches him how to be a kinder person as their relationship grows stronger and they become friends. See her full review below.

My Spy
Lindalee R., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, Age 11

My Spy is so good because I love the friendship and love that develops between the characters JJ (Dave Bautista) and Sophie (Chloe Coleman)! They start off as strangers and then, throughout the movie, JJ teaches her how to be a good spy, and she teaches him how to be a kinder person as their relationship grows stronger and they become friends. Not only does JJ have a change of heart and but eventually he develops feelings for her mom.

My Spy is the story of a CIA agent who is secretly watching a family in order to try and get information connected to a big case he is on. One of the people he is watching is the little girl, Sophie, who discovers J.J. and that he is spying on her and her mom. In exchange for not revealing his secret, Sophie makes him teach her how to be a good spy.

One of my favorite parts of My Spy is when JJ goes on a date with Sophie‘s mom and starts dancing. Because his character is so serious and he’s such a large person, it’s very funny to see him trying to do all these trendy dances…because he does it so terribly! Honestly, it kind of reminded me of my dad dancing.

For those who like Dave Bautista in Guardians of the Galaxy you will love him in this movie. Chloe Coleman has a very bright acting future—she is such a kind person both on and off camera, and she has such an amazing on-camera presence.

A quick note to parents:  My Spy does contain some adult language (and in some songs played during the movie.) So while younger kids may enjoy it, parents should decide if their kids are mature enough to see a movie with moments of profanity.

My Spy is full of action, fun, comedy and love. I give My Spy 5 out of 5 stars. I recommend it for ages 10 to 18, and adults will love it too! Don’t miss it when it comes to theatres April 17, 2020!

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